25 April 2012

DFID Two Years In: How's It Going So Far?

The two year anniversary of DFID under the Coalition Government is upon us. What have DFID done well and what would you like to see them change? I asked a number of my regular readers to respond to those two questions. Nine people responded, 3 requested anonymity. Of the 6 who declared themselves we have an MP, a former UN agency head, a senior UN leader, a senior leader within a non UN multilateral and a response from an American Foundation.

What were people pleased with? The stated commitment to 0.7% of GNI to ODA, the emphasis on evaluation and more robust evidence, on girls empowerment, the dialogue around VFM, engagement with more fundamental research via UK research councils, and the increased commitment to nutrition.

What were people worried about? The BAR and MAR methodology (have a more open review before the refresh), broaden scope of impact evaluations and methods, be a leader in reforming the way leaders are chosen for international organisations, do more fundamental research on humanitarian issues, be more nuanced in interactions with private sector, rethink the balance of spend to staff, have a greater focus on tertiary education and be more mindful of the downsides of the evaluation culture, including overly complex and burdensome log frames and being drawn away from evaluations of governance policies and interventions.

Here are the responses by individual:

Hugh Bayley MP
Member of the House of Commons International Development Committee

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
Maintaining the commitment to 0.7% of GNI for ODA by 2014 and their focus on development outcomes.

2. What would you like them to do differently?
Consult the public and development experts (in partner countries and the UK) on the methodology of the MAR and the BAR before the follow-up reviews.

Rob van den Berg
Chief of Monitoring and Evaluation, Global Environmental Fund

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
I was most impressed by the fact that DFID commissioned a study on evaluation methodology that looks at causality issues, counterfactuals and in general impact evaluations from a broad philosophical and scientific perspective, to provide intellectual food for thought on how we should approach this in future. I have not seen the final study yet but it looks very promising and could turn DFID into a leader in this area.

2. What would you like them to do differently?
I hope the study will broaden the scope of impact evaluations in general and will increase our understanding how international cooperation works and that this in turn will lead to improved actions. But that is very much a longer term agenda.

Catherine Bertini
Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. Former Executive Director of the World Food Programme

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
Highlighting Girls
Outspokenness of Secretary of State of DFID

2. What would you like them to do differently?
Build on their expertise and be more proactive on building, influencing, and choosing leaders for international organisations

Pieter Bult
Senior Advisor Government Relations, UNICEF, New York

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
The UNICEF - DFID partnership is one of openness and mutual learning and one that has even further strengthened in the past years. A strong equity focus, a drive for demonstrating achievements in development and humanitarian programmes, as well as serious attention to sound management and accountability practices, aligns our thinking. As UNICEF we particularly appreciate the ‘Value for Money (VfM)’ approach that DFID applies to its work. The approach is in-line with our own thinking and actions. In international development it is not only about efficiency, but about achieving results in a cost-conscious manner. DFID has and continues to engage well with UNICEF at all levels and the VfM approach has facilitated the dialogue on key organisational matters. One direct result of the dialogue is that it has accelerated UNICEF's joining of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), another good DFID supported initiative.

2. What would you like them to do differently?
In terms of your second question, I would like to make a comment on DFID’s Multi-lateral Aid Review (MAR) as a tool for measuring Value for Money. While UNICEF welcomes external performance assessments, and UNICEF appreciates DFID's ground breaking efforts, since the MAR there has been a multiplicity of such assessments from donors, each requiring substantial amount of attention and leading to increased transaction costs at HQ, and more importantly at our Country Office levels. While we recognize the importance of the MAR as a tool for DFID, UNICEF would welcome DFID's support in coordinating with other member states and donors looking for more harmonized approaches.

Milena Novy-Marx
Programme Officer, John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
It is encouraging to see that DFID has taken on the challenge of girls’ education. Their Girls Education Challenge fund -- at 350 million pounds -- is a major commitment, and intends to leverage market forces and private and philanthropic sector actors to promote access to quality, relevant primary and early secondary education for girls in some of the poorest and difficult countries to reach. We know that girls' education can have powerful development impacts in areas from health to income. We hope that the Girls Education Challenge fund will meet its potential.

John Wand
Deputy Director for Research and International Strategy, ESRC (UK Research Council)

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
I have been most impressed by DFID's willingness and enthusiasm to engage with the more fundamental research supported by Research Councils as a way of helping to underpin and inform their other work.

2. What would you like them to do differently?
DFID could expand the above approach to other areas of their work, such as humanitarian relief.

Anon 1

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
DFID has carried out a very frank and open examination of its programme and partnerships; it's bi-lateral and multi-lateral reviews were honest, clear and very useful pieces of work for the wider development community.
DFID's focus on transparency and results has also helped the international community bring attention to  these important issues.
DFID's scaling up of its efforts in key countries, especially in fragile states, is also very welcome.
DFID's research and analysis and willingness to share with others has been very positive.

2. What would you like them to do differently?
DFID is in an excellent position to develop further their focus on results, on longer term development results, as well as areas where it is harder to measure results such as in institutional capacity building or governance or gender equality.

Anon 2

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
The massively increased focus on robust impact assessment and evaluation.

The fact that DFID has published its first commitments on nutrition improvements in the form of the nutrition strategy and position papers - and nutrition has a much firmer place in programming (spend on programmes, research, analysis).

Clearer thinking on our theories of change for impact.

2. What would you like them to do differently?
Be more nuanced in engagement with private sector - the private sector is huge, complex and diverse and not necessarily good value for money or driven towards efficient results for delivery of results. I think there is a romanticism of what the private sector is willing to deliver for poor people/development. As someone who has worked in in private sector I think DFID should be more analytical, evidence based and nuanced in how it engages for pro poor outcomes; not keep a blanket belief that any private sector engagement is good. It could also recognise its lack of experience in private sector engagement and not dive off the high board with such speed and so happily.

Anon 3

1. What have you been most impressed with from DFID in past 2 years?
The Government's continuing commitment to the 0.7% is remarkable, and provides real global leadership.

2. What would you like them to do differently?
It doesn't make much sense to have these increasing resources with a declining staff complement. It is nigh on impossible to engage DFID policy-makers in serious discussion - not their fault, they are just too overwhelmed by the practicalities of ensuring that their budget targets are met. And this means that they cannot develop from an international aid Department (which is what they are - and which is admirable and something they do very well) to an international development Department (which would be even more admirable and relevant to a complex world, and is something to which they should increasingly aspire).

The focus on targets and impact is welcome. The downside is that this has led to increasingly complex matrices and log-frames with which it is impossible for smaller organisations to deal with.

Post-primary education - further/tertiary/vocational - remains a huge gap in the DFID approach. Whatever happened to sector strategies?

And me, Lawrence Haddad?

1. Action Leadership. I very much appreciate DFID's action leadership on health (e.g. malaria), nutrition, sanitation, gender based violence, evidence and solutions. And I am proud that the Secretary of State and the DFID leadership team are being brave in standing up for development and aid and I am impressed by how effective they are in doing it. DFID is fulfilling commitments and is trying to do the right thing. The independent aid effectiveness commission, ICAI, is also a brave and good thing to do and DFID is being strong on corruption.

2. But I miss a little of the thought leadership. Michael Woolcock when commenting on the World Bank President candidates spoke of "big" development (systems, growth, pressure on planet, urbanisation etc) and "small" development (i.e. more micro, programmatic), saying both are important.  I think DFID is very present and effective in the small development arena, but perhaps less influential in the big trends, paradigms, systems, foresight and anticipation spaces. For example, there seems to be a lack of attention to the quality of growth, a lack of granularity about when and why the private sector is helpful and an absence of energy about people powered initiatives. This is just an impression, perhaps reinforced by a lack of white papers, the atomisation brought on inadvertently by the evaluation culture, and the imperatives to stay on focus and on message for fear of a backlash from the UK taxpayer. It might also reflect my lack of inside knowledge about what DFID is doing.

DFID has lots of very smart development thinkers--I would like to see them express themselves a little more.


Lawrence Haddad said...

Profuse apologies to the Anon who I missed out in the initial posting...you are in there now...

Michael Woolcock said...

I'd second these sentiments (for what it's worth), and just add that DFID has also tried (admirably, if imperfectly) to both ramp up the "rigor" of evaluations without capitulating entirely to the RCT doctrine. In my experience at least, certain key elements have been willing to explore innovative strategies for getting at the (vastly more numerous) issues that don't -- for ethical, political or pragmatic reasons -- lend themselves to RCTs.